Thursday, June 30, 2016

Yes or No

The trouble in all of this, the problem we have when we insist that maybe tomorrow we shall trust in the Lord, is that it all comes back to us, not Him. It comes back to our timing, not His. It comes back to our plans, not His. 

We give the hesitation in our own hearts the authority to run our lives, as if it is this hesitation that is most true of us.

As if we are only what we find it possible to be. As if we are only what we are capable of doing. As if every moment is held captive to our fallen, flailing flesh. How much of your life do you really want to depend on your own courage? Really?

Our greatest trouble is that we spend most of our lives doing only the things we're ready to do. From a practical standpoint, sure, this seems like a pretty safe way to go. You don't jump out of the airplane until you're sure your chute is secure. You don't step on the rickety bridge until you're sure it will hold your weight. You don't let go until you know where you're going to land. You don't say yes until you've got one good breath down in your lungs to even get the word out. 

But the truth is that for most of us, this means we never jump out of the plane. We never step out on the rickety bridge. We never let go. And we never say yes. Because how in the world can we ever be sure? How in the world can we ever be ready?

We're all waiting for that moment that we were made for, but the truth is that that moment may not be coming. At least not any time soon. But there are moments in this world that are made for us.

There are moments that are meant to make us stronger than we ever imagined we could be. There are moments that are meant to give us confidence in our faith. There are moments that draw us up into something bigger than we could ever dream. There are moments that are made for us, and it is up to us to seize them.

Even if we can't breathe.

Even if we've forgotten how to inhale one more time. Even if the only sound we can hear is our own heartbeat drumming through our ears. Even if our knees are knocking. Even if our hands are shaking. Even if our soul is unsettled. Even if we can't fathom a moment like this.

And you know what those moments are. They're the same ones we started this week with - they're the times when the presence of God is so real that it'd be pure foolishness not to trust Him. Right now. Right here. They're the moments when the most difficult thing to do is the simplest: believe. They're the moments when all it takes is one faithful yes when it's far easier to say maybe tomorrow. They're today's moments, and they're not coming around again. 

They're not coming back tomorrow, and they're not waiting for today. They're not waiting for you to check your chute. They're not waiting for you to test the bridge. They're not waiting for you to spot your soft landing. They're not waiting for you to breathe.

These moments come but for a fleeting second. They're here and then they are gone, and by the time you breathe, you've missed it. Tomorrow sounds good, but this is not tomorrow. This is today. This is right now. And you have to be ready to say yes. 

You have to be ready to say yes because one of these moments is coming where yes is all you've got. You haven't got maybe tomorrow. You haven't got just a minute. You haven't got the chance to turn your eyes from Jesus because the moment is coming when He will be all that you can see, when His glory will shine so bright there is nowhere to divert your eyes. In that moment, you've got just a moment. Do you accept the sacrifice He made for you? Do you accept His invitation to paradise?

There is no maybe tomorrow.

Do you or don't you? Can you say yes? Can you breathe right now? Nod your head. Do something. This is your moment. It's the only one you've got. Yes or no?

These are the moments we're living in. A thousand times each day. A million times in a lifetime. Each moment is this one, the Son of God so near that you can feel His breath. His eyes so tender that they pierce right through you. His glory so bright that it's impossible to turn away from it. These moments...they're not that moment, but they are. They're all you've got. 

Do you or don't you? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tomorrows and Yesterdays

When it comes to those moments where God is so near that our breath catches in our throats and our hearts begin to race, it is ironically God's own faithfulness that works against us. One of the reasons it's so easy for us to say Maybe tomorrow is because we know that tomorrow, God will still be here.

That's His promise to us.

God has always promised His people that He never leaves them nor forsakes them. He has always promised that He is the same yesterday and today and forever. We know that this is true. We know that He is always there. Always here. And so we know that if we choose not to take Him up on this moment, there will be another one. And another one. And another one. So we put it off forever, this trusting in the Lord, and that's what makes forever such a difficult reality as well.

It's what makes it so hard, after a lifetime of putting Him off, to take Him up on it at that final chance, as we stand before Him in fullest form and know that we are just one breath away from heaven. By the time we get here, we are so accustomed to having tomorrow that it does not sink in that this time, there is no tomorrow. There's only today, and then forever.

But truthfully, there is really only ever today. Even when we are content to contend for tomorrow, we only really have today. This moment, whatever moment this is, this time in which God is just a breath away...this moment isn't coming again. We might have another moment like it. We might have another chance almost like this one. But this moment, this chance is only now. It's all we've got.

We cannot face today by trusting God tomorrow because if we ever do get around to trusting Him on it, it's already yesterday. It's not today any more. The today that we trust God for yesterday has its own moments, and every time we hold out for tomorrow, we put ourselves one more step behind. We're living into the past, missing every moment until it's long gone, and forsaking the ones that lie ahead. 

But God is the same yesterday and today and forever. Yes. Yes, He is. But yesterday is not today and today is not forever. And so from our human perspective, there is a fundamental difference between this moment's God and that one's. 

There's a fundamental difference between trusting God today when I need a God who is patient and kind, perhaps because today, I am impatient and unkind. Or perhaps because today, I am a bit too harsh with myself. Or perhaps because today, I am feeling small and scared. And I need this God who is tender with me. ...and trusting God tomorrow when I need a God who is fiercely loving, perhaps because tomorrow, I am feeling attacked from all sides and needing a defender. Or perhaps because tomorrow, I am feeling vulnerable and need a God who stands up for me. Or perhaps because tomorrow, I am feeling alone and need a God who stands up with me. If tomorrow, I trust the God that I needed today, I am going to find Him essentially useless. What need have I for a God who is patient and kind and tender when there are very real arrows flying at my heart that are about to strike me down? 

And what about the next day, when I need a God of rest, perhaps because I am weary from this tumultuous few days I seem to be having? If I trust the next day the God that I needed tomorrow, I am going to be offended by a God who is ready to fight once the battle is already over, when I am weary and wounded and needing my rest. He's ready to go to war for me. Tomorrow's God never quite meets us on the right page of the story.

That's not to say, of course, that God is not patient and kind and tender, fiercely loving, and providing of rest today. He is all of those things. But I cannot trust Him with what I don't have. I cannot trust Him with any moment other than this one. And if in this moment, what I have is smallness and scaredness, then that's all I have to trust Him with.

And whether I take this moment or not, whether I embrace this moment or not, another one is coming. 

That's what makes it so hard to take this one. That's what makes it such a challenge to say yes right now. We think we're always going to have another chance. Another moment. Another opportunity. Because God is steadfast; He will always be here. 

But we won't. We won't always be here. And we'll never have this moment again. Not this exact moment.

So the question is this: Will you take today? Will you trust Him right now?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mists of Love and Shame

Perhaps the reason it is so difficult for us to trust Jesus in the moments when He feels most near is because we have convinced ourselves that this is not what good Christians do. Good Christians do not just trust Jesus without a second thought. Good Christians do not go running to Him when life is difficult or when their hearts are troubled. This whole idea of trusting Jesus, it's just a phase we go through on our way to good Christianity. 

A good Christian, a truly good Christian, has no need of Jesus at all.

Phrased so boldly, it's easy to disagree with that sentiment. How ridiculous! Our Christian lives are centered around this Christ; it's why we're called Christians. But from a practical perspective, most of our lives are spent trying to outgrow our need for Him. Trying to build our own strength. Trying to find our own love. Trying to perfect our own grace. So that maybe, just maybe, we one day stand before Him and hear Him say, Well done, good and faithful servant. You did well and didn't trouble Me to help you all the time.

This is the goal. This is what most of us are working toward. It's why when we imagine ourselves standing in the presence of God one day, looking Jesus eye-to-eye, face-to-face, our breath catches in our throats and our hearts start to race. I used to think this was anxiety, or at best, anticipation, but it's not. It's shame. We carry with us the shame that one day, we will stand face-to-face with God and know that He sees right through us.

We will stand at the gates of heaven, completely unable to enter on our own. No matter what we accomplish in this life, no matter how good we get at going it alone, no matter what we manage to do in our own strength, we are wholly incapable of carrying ourselves into the next life. We cannot enter heaven under our own power. We cannot stand on our own two feet. 

We're all about to fall.

And doesn't that just drive you crazy? Admit it; it does. If you're anything like me, these kinds of thoughts make you both incredibly excited and ridiculously nervous all at the same time. You want it to be true that you're going to need Jesus, that He's going to do this thing so you don't have to, that you're going to be able to lay down your burden and share the yoke and find rest. At the same time, there's still this part of you that thinks you can do it on your own. Out of all the people of the world, across all time and space, you're the one who's going to throw this system out of whack. You're the one who's going to do it. If anybody can do it, it's you. And you may even feel a sense of pride at that thought. You can do it. Of course you can do it. Why couldn't you do it?

But you can't do it. Because if you could, there'd be no reason for the Cross. None. If it were possible for even one of us to do this on our own, there'd be no Jesus to even challenge our pride. No Jesus to confront our confidence. 

We don't do this with any of our other relationships. There's nobody in your life that you love so much that you don't need them. The people that you love the most, you ask for help. You count on them to be there for you because that's what love does. You don't walk through life's most difficult moments, then tell the stories later and say, "I would have liked for you to be there with me, but I love you too much to do that to you." Of course not. That's ridiculous.

And there's no one that loves you so much that they don't want to be a part of your life. Try to wrap your head around that one! Imagine that every month, you got a letter from someone who claimed to love you. They told you how much they love you and how they can't wait for you to come visit them. But they didn't read your last letter. In fact, they haven't read any of your letters. They don't want to know what's going on in your life because they love you so much that knowing what your life is really like would ruin that love. So they prefer to just live in the anticipation of you and trust that one day, you'll get to them, standing on your own two feet and for God's sakes, looking somewhat decent. Don't just knock on their door in tattered clothing and mussed hair; clean yourself up first. After all, they love you so much. 

This is not what love looks like in our lives. We are not willing to accept these ideas as love. And yet, this is the very idea we project onto Jesus. This is what we think His love looks like, or what we hope it does. Or whatever. We hide behind these false loves, behind these mists of affection and shame. And we declare that the highest love is to have no need, accept no grace from the other. That's not love.

That is so not love.

God didn't create you to run on your own. If He had, the very breath that fills your lungs would not be His breath; it'd be stale air. Earth air. Plain ol' atmosphere. But you're filled with holy breath for a reason. You're called beloved for a reason. You're pursued for a reason. And there's a Cross for a reason. 

And none of those reasons is so that you could do this on your own. None of these reasons is so that you eventually get to the place where you don't need God. 

Every one of them, rather, is so that you come to the place where you love Him. Really love Him. And understand how very, very much He loves you. 

Let Him help. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Maybe Tomorrow

There come these moments in life - a few at first, and then more as the years go by - where it becomes evident, even to the most flimsy of all believers, that the only real option, the only legitimate choice, is to trust Jesus with this one. To release the grips our own hands have and to entrust our lives to His hands. Sometimes, in these moments, we can even see Him standing here, tender eyes piercing straight through to the very core of our being, calloused, wounded hands stretched out, ready to take our lives in trust.

And in these moments, I must confess, it's still hard. Almost impossible. Even the most faithful of all believers have this amazing ability to look Jesus in the eye, to feel the tenderness radiating from His face, to know without a doubt the love His calloused, wounded hands hold, and to turn away, scuffle their feet, and mumble something about maybe tomorrow. Or at the very least, not yet.

I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's our desire to do things for ourselves, our desperate attempts to get one last good go at things before we ask for help. I don't know if it's our overconfidence that we are capable of doing these things for ourselves. I don't know if it's our burden of shame that prevents us from looking into His eyes for too long. I don't know if it's our sense of unworthiness, which is at the same time magnified and alleviated in His presence, that keeps us from receiving good gifts. I don't know if it's our illusion of time, which we are sure heals all wounds, that keeps us from embracing this moment, this one right here. That keeps us from making tomorrow today. 

But something about it makes our breath catch in our throats. Something about it makes our hearts almost stop. Something about it makes our knees knock and our legs tremble until we're not sure we can stand any more. And perhaps we shouldn't stand in such an amazing presence, but so, too, have we forgotten how to fall.

A few days ago, I was thinking about these moments, these incredible moments where Jesus is just one simple breath away and we know it...and we still can't take it. I was thinking about all the times it's easier to say tomorrow than yes, all the times it's easier to say some day than today. And I was thinking about the day that's coming when that won't be an option. The day is coming where there is no tomorrow

What then?

I laughed as I considered what it might be like to stand before Jesus when this life is over, when my time here is done. And I thought about what it will be like when I feel my breath taken away all over again, my heart stops beating, my knees start knocking and I'm not sure I can stand. Will I, when there is no other choice, remember how to fall? Will I, when there is no tomorrow, be able to consent to today? Will I, when there is not even the illusion of one more thing I can do for myself, be able to let Jesus do it? 

I laughed as I imagined my dead self standing before God, feebly asserting that I have just one more thing I want to try, one more breath I want to take, one more day I want to live on my own before I come crawling back to Jesus. For one more day, Lord, let me be a zombie, because this life You offer is just too good to be true.

And it is laughable, really, but it's not far off. At least, not from my own experience. I haven't had a lot of these moments, but I'm having them more and more. More and more opportunities to reach out. More and more opportunities to trust. More and more moments where His eyes see right through me and His voice offers what can only be amazing, and all I have to do is say yes. Today. And fall. 

And here I am trying to stand. 

Here I am trying to catch my breath.

Here I am trying to feel my own heartbeat when the truth is that in these moments, it's so wrapped up in His that the only rhythm in all the world is perfect love. 

Here I am thinking tomorrow is going to change something more dramatically than today is offering, that just a little more time will bring a moment better than this one. Maybe tomorrow, Lord. Maybe tomorrow. 

But there is no tomorrow. There never has been. There's not even today. 

There's just forever. And there's just right now. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Woven Together

There is, of course, one other reason why it is so difficult to find ourselves in the narrative of the Cross. It's because of all the places we could be in this story, and we've looked at several of those possibilities in the past few days, the place where we most truly are is in the heart of Christ Himself.

In this one scene, this one grand scene, this turning point of not only history's story but our own stories, as well, we are so wrapped up into the heart of God that His story and our story are inseparable.

After all, isn't that what the Cross is all about?

God didn't come to the Cross just to prove that He's God, as though if He could show you His amazing nature, you'd just have to love Him. It's not like some New Testament version of the mountain where God shows up and defeats Baal in consuming fire; no, the consuming fire on the Cross was His own burning heart. God came to the Cross not to demonstrate His God-ness, but His goodness. And in the same breath that He declares that He is worthy, He says that you are, too. 

It's how it has to be, really. Because you can say all day that God is loving, but until you are loved, what does it mean? You can say all day that He is gracious, but until you receive that grace, who cares? It does not matter much if God is who He says He is if you are not also who He says you are. In the Cross, this is asked and answered. 

This is not to say that God is nothing without us. Not at all. God does not require men in order to be God; He was God over the formless and empty before there ever was anything at all, and He will continue to be God long after we are gone from this place. So do not misunderstand the theology here. 

But without man, there is no Cross. Without our stories carried in His heart, there's no reason to walk this worn, dusty road. Without our wounds crying out, there's no reason to shed His blood. God doesn't carry the Cross for the formless and empty; He carries His Cross for the bruised and the broken. 

That's you. That's me.

I don't think we truly understand this. I think we say so often that "Jesus did for you and me" that it's become essentially meaningless, that we've forgotten the very real heartache, the very real burden, the very real blood that He shed for a very real reason. Somehow, we've taken ourselves out of the equation in the same breath we put ourselves into it. He died for us, without our having to be there. He died for us, then wrapped His death with a bow and gave it as a gift. He died for us, meanwhile, somewhere back in Galilee....

And then we continue to ask where we are, who we are, in the story of the Cross. 

When will we learn? When will we remember? When will we dare again to walk that worn, dusty road ourselves, to look up at our Savior as He hangs broken, bleeding, to gaze into His eyes and see there His love reflected, and to know that this...this is where we are in the story of the Cross - in the very heart of Jesus as He makes this stunning declaration: I am Who I say I am, and you are who I say you are. 

And, our stories are inextricably woven together. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016


As we continue to look for ourselves in the story of the Cross - and continue to insist that we simply could not be the soldiers nor the thieves - there is one other option for discovering our place on Golgotha: the unpresent.

The truth is there are not a lot of "people" stories once Jesus is condemned. There is no, Meanwhile, back at the home of Simon.... The attention in the Scriptures turns solely to Jesus, as it should, but we cannot escape the fact that there are but a few others who are present at this tremendous event. The soldiers and thieves, as we discussed yesterday. John and Mary make a cameo appearance, but we aren't even told much about them at this point, either. At Jesus' arrest, we are told that even the disciples scattered.

It's not that the people aren't watching. Maybe they're not. Or maybe from a hill just outside the city, the shadow of the Cross falls in such a way that they can't help but see. It's hard to believe that a region so enamored with the Son of David would not be at least curious of the spectacle, although given what we know about how often the people actually thanked Him for being amazing and healing them, it could be that they wanted very little to do with Him, lest they be arrested as conspirators or sympathizers. After all, Jesus was dying a political death; best not to be caught on the wrong side of such a struggle.

It's impossible really to know where the people are, what they were thinking, how they were justifying being where they were when this Jesus was where He was. I imagine we could ask a hundred of them and come up with a hundred different stories. 

But what about us?

That's the real question. That's the one we have to be willing to answer. Where are we while the Son of Man hangs on the Cross? Where are we when this Teacher who walked our streets is condemned? Where are we when the shadows of the Cross fall over the city? What are we whispering to one another while the Son of God cries out His forsakenness? 

And why...why aren't we there? Why are we...unpresent?

It's strange to me that this central event of the Christian faith, this turning point of the doctrine of redemption and justification and salvation, this crux of history is the most talked about and least experienced of all the moments of Christian history. We're far more comfortable sitting in the First Church of Acts or under the broom plant of the prophet than we are bearing witness to the sacrifice of the Lamb.

When we talk about this moment in Christian history, we talk about it like it is the aside, like it's the story that's taking place away from the main action. We talk about God and about the church as though it's center stage, and then we say, Meanwhile, on a hill just outside the city, Jesus was dying for our sins. Or something. And we were busy in the marketplace, checking out the latest harvest of fine grapes. 

We talk about the Cross like we don't really know what was happening there, and the sad truth is...we don't. We don't know what was happening on the Cross because we don't bother to look. We don't want to trouble our hearts with the details. We can't bear to bear witness to the horrific tragedy, even for the sake of the tremendous glory, and so we talk about the Cross in whispers, in rumors, in afterthoughts. We know what was happening out there was pretty amazing, but we don't bother to see it. And so all we can do is tell stories. And our stories don't do it justice...not by a long shot.

Being a thief or a soldier is starting to look better and better, isn't it? At least the sinners, at least the betrayers, were there. At least they know what really happened on that hill. All we have is speculation and shadows.

We have to be willing to be present at the Cross, whatever it takes. Whatever it means. We have to be willing to see the tragedy unfold, to grieve the horrendousness in the same breath that we embrace the glory. It's the only way we can ever really tell the story of Jesus. It's the only way we can share testimony of the Cross. It's the only way that this story, this amazing story, truly becomes part of our story. When we dare to be there, on a hill outside the the foot of the Cross, rather than just in the shadow of it.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


As we talk about the glory and the grief of the Cross, it's unavoidable that we come to the place where we must confess that we simply don't know what to do with it. Perhaps that's how we've come to either ignore the Cross completely or wear it as an adornment.

It's understandable, really, that we are so troubled by the Cross. It's one of the few scenes in all the Gospels where there don't seem to be "people like us" around. When Jesus is in the houses of sinners, we get that; we're the sinners. When Jesus is walking the streets of Galilee, we get that; we're the crowds. When Jesus is in the boat with His disciples, we get that; we're the disciples. But at the Cross? 

Where are we when Jesus makes His way to Calvary? Where are we when He cries out? Where are we when He gives up His spirit? A fair reading only suggests really two possibilities, neither of which is particularly palatable. Neither of which is particularly comfortable.

Either we're the soldiers...or we're the thieves.

These are the other people in the crucifixion narrative of the Gospel. These are the guys. This is it. There's Jesus, a few Roman soldiers, and a couple of thieves. The thieves argue between themselves, debating the nature of this Man who is crucified among them; the soldiers carry out orders blindly, unaware of the One whose hands they pierce. To one thief, Jesus says nothing; to the other, He promises paradise; to the soldiers, He speaks forgiveness. 

To embrace the silence of the Cross is to fail to acknowledge Jesus at all. That's no good.

To accept an offer of paradise is to confess that you are a thief, to acknowledge your own guilt in the presence of the guiltless. Sound like fun?

To be forgiven is to admit your need of forgiveness, to know that you've done something wrong. Still want forgiveness?

There are no good positions to be on at Golgotha - not on your own cross, not at the foot of His, not standing guard. It's an uncomfortable place to be. And yet, if we insist on being there, on finding ourselves in the story, these are our options. We are the unrepentant thief, the confessional thief (who is still a thief), or the hammer-wielding soldier. Because, of course, we can't be the Christ. (Although, let's be honest here for a minute and admit that we're trying.)

But this is where we are. Always trying to find ourselves in the story, always looking for the people in the Gospels that represent who we are. And yet, partially, if not wholly, unwilling to dare say we could be either a thief or a soldier. Isn't there another option? Isn't there another way? Isn't there another human piece of this culmination of the divine story, somewhere else where we fit in?

The answer is "yes," but you're not going to like that option, either. It's how we got in this whole big mess in the first place....

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sin and Shame

Jesus will bind our wounds. That's the message we started looking at yesterday, and we all seem to read it the same way - from our own broken, beaten bodies. From our own wounded hearts. From our own torn flesh. And this makes us so very, very thankful for the Cross.

But Jesus does not just bind the wounds we bear; He also binds the wounds we cause. And that...ought to make us grieve.

It ought to make us grieve that the Son of God went to the Cross not just to save us, but to save others from us. He went not only to make us whole, but to put back together the pieces of other lives that we've torn apart. He died not only to redeem us from the world, but to redeem the world from us. He carried not just our sin and shame to the Cross; He carried the sin and shame of those we have sinned against, those we have shamed. Christ took each one of those heavy steps to Calvary both to make us clean and to clean up our mess.

I don't know about you, but that breaks my heart. 

It breaks my heart because I realize, just in that thought, the others that I know I have wounded, and I shudder to think about those I don't know about. It breaks my heart because here I am, trying to tell other people about this amazing God who binds their wounds...and I am the very cause of some of those wounds. Let me tell you about this amazing Jesus...because by the time I get through with you, you're going to need Him.

It's this painful recognition of a double life where I am both making Jesus known and making Jesus necessary, and that troubles me. It grieves me. It...shames me. And now, I need Jesus to take away this shame, as well. Which means that I make Jesus necessary not only for you, as I wound you, but also for me, as I shame myself. Which means now I bear double the shame, for I have made Him necessary on two accounts: yours and mine.

Aren't you glad there's something so amazing as grace?

But this is essential. We have to understand this. I have to understand this. Because I don't want to be simply thankful for the Cross. I don't want to be glad that God would do such a thing, although I am thankful and I am glad. I never want to be in a place where I forget the gruesomeness of the Cross in the presence of its glory because that was real blood that Jesus shed. Those were real nails that pierced His hands and feet. Those were real soldiers with real hammers and heavy beams with real splinters. Those were real thorns that pressed onto His head, real tears that He cried. There was real pain in His voice when He cried out, Eloi, eloi.... There is a real tragedy at the foot of the Cross, and as much as I am the beneficiary of His glory, I am also the cause of His pain. 

When we think about the Cross as being His glory, that's easy. That's not so hard. Because in His glory, we are healed; we see ourselves as whole. The pieces of who we are come together and start to make sense. But when we remember the agony of the Cross, we're torn. We stand face-to-face with our own brokenness. We fall to pieces. Because we did that. I did that. I'm doing that. I'm creating a world where people need Jesus. 

In the same breath I'm telling them who He is. 

It's almost impossible to reconcile, at least for me. How am I ever supposed to make Him known if I can't stop making Him necessary?

It breaks my heart. And it ought to. Because as much as the Cross is this incredible glory, it's also a terrible tragedy. As much as His blood covers me, it is also on my hands.

Jesus will bind our wounds - both those we carry and those we cause. And for this, I am both thankful...and I grieve. 

Monday, June 20, 2016


Jesus will bind our wounds. The Gospels are full of Him doing just that - giving sight to the blind, speech to the mute, wholeness to the cripple, and life to the dead. It's one of the things we love about Him. In fact, it may be the thing we most love about Him.

We spend a lot of our time talking about how Jesus is going to heal us, about how He will mend our broken hearts, about how He will bandage our wounded souls. We are encouraged to come to Him with our aches and pains, with our bleeding and brokenness, with our questions and concerns. That's what He's there for. 

And when we envision Jesus on the Cross, He's there for us. Healing, mending, redeeming us. 

It's a beautiful theology, really, and absolutely necessary to any good love of God. After all, if the God who claims to love us can't heal us, then is He worthy of our love? Is He worthy of our adoration? It's nice to be loved, but what is love without tenderness? Without mercy? Without compassion? There is no such love; there can't be. 

The problem, however, is that this type of theology doesn't bring us into the depths of the heart of God. It makes us, of all things, thankful for the Cross, as though the Cross were only the most glorious thing that could ever happen.

Glorious. Bruised and beaten, broken and bloody, gashes wide open across His back, shoulders dislocated from the weight of His own body, blood dripping down His face like tears, pouring out of His side, breath getting shallower and shallower until.... Glorious. It's so beautiful, we say, as though that were the point of it all. It's so amazing, this whole episode of the Cross. 

And we'd do it all over again simply for the glory. For the beauty of it all.

It's how we came to wear the Cross as a fashion accessory. Wrapped in gold or silver, adorned with precious stones, as if the Cross was only something beautiful. As if the Cross was meant to make us beautiful. We carry our crosses as decoration, not burden. And it makes us feel beautiful. God did this just for us.

None of this is bad theology, per se. It's all true. God sent His Son to die on a Cross and redeem us from our sins. He sent His Son to suffer this horrible, terrible thing for the sake of glory. Something beautiful happened on Calvary that day...

...but let us not forget how ugly it really was.

To do that, to bring the fullness of the Cross into focus, we have to reconsider how it is that we read these words: Jesus will bind our wounds. Because they're true, absolutely true. Every bit of them. He does. But there's more than one way to read those words. One way, the way we so often read them, will mend your heart.

The other way...will break it. 

(Stay tuned.)

Friday, June 17, 2016


There's been a lot of talk about hate this week. Yet not one voice amid all the din has hit on the truth of anything that is going on in our world right now, and tragic. It condemns us to keep reliving this narrative again and again and again.

The truth is not that there is hate in our world; that's a myth. It's a false narrative. It's why we can't seem to get a handle on the whole thing - we're chasing a story that doesn't exist. The truth is not that there are men and women among us who hate this or that group, this or that population, this or that people. The truth is not that, as a member of this or that group, population, or people, someone out there hates you. 

The truth is that there is hate in our hearts, and it's the deep-seated hatred that we have for...ourselves.

If you listen, if you listen beyond the media and the hype and the fear and the easy way out that tells us we have a surface problem, if you listen, you cannot help but hear the sounds of tormented hearts crying out. They're not the hearts of the victims; they're the hearts of the perpetrators. 

They're the hearts of men and women who have deep, aching questions about themselves, about their worlds, about their purposes, about their gods. They're the hearts of men and women that have not yet been reconciled to themselves. They're the hearts of men and women who look into the world because they cannot bear to look into a mirror and still they see an image of themselves reflected that they cannot tolerate. And their anger and their hatred burns against that image. 

We talk about hate as if it has something to do with us, as if we can do some kind of transformative PR work and make people stop hating us for being who we are. But the truth is that nobody has ever hated us for being who we are; they have only ever hated us for not being who they want us to be. That's on them, not us. We can never combat hate by convincing someone else to accept us for who we are; we have to speak into their wounded hearts and convince them to embrace themselves. We have to give them tender eyes for their own souls. We have to walk with them to the mirror so that they can see things for what they really are - themselves and ourselves. 

This is true no matter what the surface story seems to be. It is true of crimes with racial overtones. It is true of crimes with sexual overtones. It is true of crimes with religious overtones. It is true that no matter what the overtone, the undertone is always insecurity. 

Weird, right? In a day and a time when we're obsessed with security, when we're talking about how to keep ourselves safe all the time, when we're debating the measures we take to protect ourselves, that the root of all the trouble we face in the world would be insecurity. But it is. And nobody's talking about how we salve ourselves against the wounds of our own insecurities. Nobody's talking about how we make ourselves safe...with our own hearts. 

It's hard. It's messy. And it requires a fundamental shift of our perspective. Because the sad truth is that at moments like this, not only do we fail to consider the heart of the perpetrator; we convince ourselves that he simply doesn't have one at all. When we all went to sleep on Sunday night, we were told that there were 50 bodies in a nightclub. When we woke up on Monday morning, there were only 49. No, it wasn't a miracle or a failure of math. We decided that the 50th life, the 50th body, wasn't really a body at all. We decided he wasn't worth mourning. Because he pulled the trigger. The 50th body wasn't a victim.

But he was. He was a victim of the terrible thing that does this to men in the first place. If we ever want to get a handle on hate, if we ever want to understand why things like this keep happening, he's the one we have to understand. 

He's the one we have to question. He's the one who holds the answers. We can't keep asking why "they" hate "us." We have to start asking why men hate themselves. What is so broken in our world that men can't bear to look into their own eyes? What is so broken in our hearts that we cannot handle our own stories? What is so scared, angry, frustrated, wounded in the depths of our own hearts that our eyes can't see through the haze? 

These are not easy questions, but they are the ones we must be asking. They are not easy roads, but they are the ones we must travel. They're not popular or politically correct, but when, honestly, was the last time politics got anything correct? It's hard because we want to turn our own eyes away. We can't bear to look at things like this. And if we must, it's easier to look at the innocent lives lost, at the faces and the stories of the unsuspecting.

But the suspect was unsuspecting once, too. The guilty was once innocent. The perpetrator, long before he pulled that trigger, was a victim. Of what? That's the question. Therein, in the depths of the hearts of men, lies the answer to our "problem" of hate. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Someone Like Me

Every once in awhile, it comes that there is an opportunity for me to tell part of my story. Anyone who's been around me for any length of time tends to know bits and pieces of where I come from, of the things that have shaped me, although I will also say that no one knows the very heart of my story; I know this for certain because I've never told it. 

But bits and pieces, a scene here or there often come in useful when trying to say a good thing about God. After all, all the good things are clearly His doing. 

And often times, after I share a part of my story, I'll hear the dreaded words: If someone like you.... It depends on what scene I've shared, and why, as to how that sentence is finished. If someone like you can find a way to move on. If someone like you can find a way to laugh. Recently, it was this: If someone like you can find a way to forgive.

I think it's meant to be a compliment, of sorts. I think it's meant to acknowledge some of the pain, some of the struggle, some of the very real difficulty of some of the stories that I can tell. And I used to be right there with them, taking some kind of misinformed pride in my broken story, exaggerating just the right parts of it to make it, and me, seem almost unfathomable, holding myself up as some kind of standard-bearer, as though this thing we call "living" ought to be easy for everyone else, if for no other reason than that they would not happen to be "someone like me." But as I continue to grow into my story, I understand the way that this approach to story wounds others.

I understand what it must be like to be listening to someone else's story and to be told, in no uncertain terms, that your story is essentially nothing in comparison to this one. Because that's what If someone like you really means. It means this story is completely unique and terrible in a way that no one else knows and that at the very least, a story like this one puts everyone else's piddly problems into perspective. Perspective. It takes away a person's right to feel and to experience and to wrestle with their own story. It takes away their right to struggle with their own brokenness.

I understand what it must be like to be struggling with some very real troubles in your heart, and to be told that you're somehow lesser because you haven't resolved them yet. If someone like me can live, can move on, can laugh, can love, can forgive, can...whatever, then what exactly is taking you so long? Why can't you just get on board with the program and do it, too? 

These sorts of things keep me up at night. Because I never want to share my story in such a way that it diminishes someone else's. I never want what God is doing in my heart to be an obstacle to what He is doing in yours. These things, they're not easy. They take time. They take darkness. They take wrestling long into the night. They take tears and heartache and trials and failures. 

And the truth is that the same things that make it so hard for you to forgive are the same things that make it hard for me. It's not about the stories we've lived, the details of our lives, the levels of Hell we've been through. If all it took for forgiveness were degrees of story, that's one thing, but that's not how it really works.

What makes it hard is that it isn't easy. There are a thousand easier ways to deal with our own brokenness, our woundedness. It's just as easy for me to embrace bitterness as it is you, and bitterness is far easier than forgiveness. I get that. What makes it hard is that I have the same longing that you do for an apology, two little words - I'm sorry - that aren't coming. I'm never going to hear them. What makes it hard is that I don't want to feel like I'm the one carrying the full weight of the relationship. What makes it hard is that if I pursue something like forgiveness, I have to confess that there is something to forgive. What makes it hard is that in a way, my forgiveness validates this story that I never wanted to be my story. What makes it hard...are all the things my wounded heart must wrestle with to even come to a place where forgiveness sounds like an English word, where it sounds like more than gobbledy-gook or high-brow theology. 

To say if someone like you...makes me seem almost superhuman, but I'm not. I'm stuck in the very same mud that you are. It's not about degrees of story; it's about heart. And my heart wrestles with the same ache that yours does. And it's just not fair to say if someone like you because I am you and you are me and we're all on the same page here. It's not a competition. I am able to do what I do because of the work that God is doing in me. He's not doing the same work in the same way in you as He is in me, and truth be told, He's doing some things in you that I wish He'd do a little faster in me. 

At the very same time that you're saying, if someone like you... I'm saying, I wish I could be more like you.

Storytelling is not a competitive sport. It's not. And when we try to make it one, someone comes out losing. Losing their own story. Losing their own heart. Losing their own right to wrestle with God, to find Him in the darkness, to struggle with Him in the night, and to find their own way into their story. It's a tragedy. 

There is no someone like me. I'm you. You're me. There is no someone like you. There's just...people like us. 

By the grace of God. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Roasted Grain

Clearly, there is a way this is all supposed to work. If you spend so much of your time trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, gathering the wheat carefully and knowing that a few good heads will no doubt fall into the chaff, considering mindfully the type of fire you want to fuel with the chaff, then there has to be a method to the madness. There has to be a purpose to it all. And there is.

The fire you start with the chaff roasts the grain.

Ideally, anyway.

Ideally, you take the wheat that you've painstakingly collected, the message you've agonized over, the words you want to say to the people to feed them. You take this wheat, and you lay it out before the people, showing them what it is that good grain looks like, offering them something life-giving, something nourishing. While the grain is laid out, you start kindling a bit of the chaff, one of those things that didn't quite fit with the heart of the message but was good nonetheless. And you light the fire in the audience, keeping in mind the different kinds of fires discussed in yesterday's post.

As the fire starts to burn, the grain starts to roast. This does a couple of things. First, it makes the grain even more enticing for the people for whom you've threshed it. Nobody really does anything with raw grain. There's not much you can do with it. It doesn't taste very good. But roasted grain...roasted grain is a real treat. It's healthy; it's nourishing; it's delicious. When you start roasting the grain, you've got something. 

It's like when you are trying to teach someone about compassion. You gather all these teachings about compassion, all these things God would want someone to know. And it's nice. But until you start bringing in some other elements - stories, perhaps, of what real compassion looks like, opportunities to practice compassion, challenges to be compassionate to those you might overlook, whatever - there's not a lot for the people to do with the grain. You start to bring in this other stuff, this chaff that could never be the heart of the message but is essential nonetheless, and that grain starts to look better and better. People start to hear their stomachs grumbling. They start to feel their hunger. Roasted grain does that to a person.

The other thing that roasted grain does is to create an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Grain is great, but raw grain kind of smells like harvest. It smells like work. It smells like dust and pollen and weeds and sweat. It smells stagnant. God knows this grain is in the dead space of transition. It's no longer living, no longer growing, no longer connected to the earth, but it's not yet useful or meaningful. At threshing, grain When it's roasted, it becomes something more. And God smells that. Like fresh bread baking in the oven, God smells the grain roasting. It's enticing. It's lovely. It's beautiful. And it's pleasing.

If you're someone who speaks for God, in any capacity, you're going to run into these things. You're going to come to the point where you realize that one of the great responsibilities of being a messenger of God is learning to thresh well. It's learning to figure out what is wheat and what is chaff and being able to separate the two. It's being able to make the tough decisions and let some good grain fall to the ground because it's too attached to the chaff; it would ruin the taste of your message if you let it stay. It's figuring out how to use chaff to burn the right kind of fire and how to control the burn. And it's learning the art of roasting grain, making every message an offering both to God and to His people. It's not a task to be taken lightly. It's hard work. 

But it's worth it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Start a Fire

There is a good use for chaff, contrary to popular belief. Most of us who live in the modern world, who have neither opportunity nor need for threshing grain, simply figure that grain goes in one pile and chaff in the other and when it's all said and done, you take the grain with you into the storeroom and push the chaff into the garbage.

But garbage is a very modern idea. In those days, there was no shoving the refuse into a big black bag and setting it out by the curb. There was no raking it into a nice pile and waiting on the city to drive by and pick it up. If you didn't figure out something to do with your chaff, it was just going to sit there. For a very long time. Until it decomposed on its own or the wind blew it away or the animals carried it off or whatever. Thankfully, chaff is good for something.'s good for starting fires.

Most of us understand this. As we're preparing a message, considering what words we're going to say, crafting the exact story we want to share, we're thinking about how to make it life-giving. We're thinking about how to make it meaningful. We're willing to throw away anything that gets in the way of the very good point we're trying to prove, even if that means we throw away something that would really get people fired up. 

There's good chaff and bad chaff, of course. Sometimes, we throw away what would set people on unnecessary fire. Politics, for example, does this. Politics fires people up. But in terms of preparing a message for the Lord, politics is a bad fire. You don't want your message on the sanctity of life to get lost in a policy debate on abortion. You don't want your words on forgiveness to give way to talk of gun control. You don't want your ideas about leadership to divide people along party lines. So politics is bad chaff. 

There's good chaff, too. Good chaff sets people on fire for the Lord, but it usually does so prematurely. Because it's so combustible. You can drop just a few words into a great sermon, and you'll lose the people too early. They'll start trying to move before they know what they're moving toward. It's when you're in the middle of telling them about starving children in Africa, and they're ready to go to Ghana before you can bring them back to starving children in your own community. It's when you're teaching about the lost, and they're out knocking on doors before you reveal your big outreach program. It's when you're just starting a sermon the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, and you look up, and your audience is already gone, en route to the hospitals and prisons because you've lit a fire under them, but a bit prematurely. It's good chaff. It's not that it's leading to the wrong things. But it's the wrong fire. 

Of course, there are times when that's really all you're trying to do. Sometimes, you have to start a fire. And I think most of us understand this, too. We understand how empty our words are when all we're trying to do is light people up, get them moving, get them involved, get them doing something. At times like this, we just don't put a lot of substance into things. Because we need people to stop thinking for a minute and move. We don't need them pontificating the finer points of modern theology; we need them putting their hands and their hearts into it and getting dirty and maybe even, *gasp* loving someone. For real.

So it's not that you start working your way toward a message, that you separate the chaff and the wheat and push one aside. No, even the chaff has its uses, and a good steward makes use of every part of the harvest. But you have to understand what it is that chaff does best and how it does it, as well as the potential dangers of burning it in the presence of God's people. It's going to start a fire. 

The question is: will it be a controlled burn or a wildfire? That depends on you. 

Monday, June 13, 2016


One of the most difficult challenges of speaking for God is the threshing process. This is true whether you're a minister preparing a sermon each week, a chaplain trying to come up with the right words in a critical moment, a worship leader trying to transition from one song to the next, or just a person with a story. You have to figure out what to keep and what not to keep, what to say and what not to say.

Threshing grain is a pretty persistent image in the Bible. Not only are characters shown doing it, but it's talked about as a metaphor here and there. And a good one at that.

I've never threshed grain. But I'm willing to bet that it's a process much like every other - it's not a perfect science. I'm willing to bet that as you're out there, standing in the middle of the harvest, trying to break off chaff from wheat, a little bit of wheat falls into the chaff. A little bit of the good stuff you're trying to get out falls in with the rubbish, and you just have to let it go.

It can't, of course, be the other way around. You can't just let a little chaff fall in with the wheat. That would never work. The wheat is edible. It's delicious. It's nourishing. The chaff...well, that's not. Imagine the embarrassment of sitting around your ancient table with good friends, family, and perhaps a couple of visitors, serving your finest baked grain, when someone bites into a bit of chaff. The horror!

So you pull out every tiny little piece of chaff and throw it on the threshing floor, knowing you're also likely tossing out a bit of two of good wheat.

What am I saying? I'm saying that when you try to put together a message for God, when you try to figure out what it is that He'd have you say, you never end up saying all the things you think of. You never end up using all your material. There are some very good points that just...fall to the side as you continue to pull chaff off of the grain. There are some very good ideas that you leave on the floor, not because they are not good ideas, but because they're too close to chaff or maybe even attached to it, and it's just not a perfect science.

It's hard sometimes. It's hard because what ends up on the floor may be a great piece of grain. It may be a great word. It may be something that someone needs to hear. But it may also be not the word for this moment, it may be so wrapped up in chaff that it would taint your whole offering. 

When we can't let go of these good pieces of grain, when we can't stop digging through the chaff to bring them out, we bring a little chaff back with us. We let a little rubbish come into the grain. And it's no good. 

It changes the story we're telling. It takes us off down a tangent. It turns us down a different path. Sometimes, we have a beautiful thought that we just can't let go of, and when we can't let go of it, we let go of something else. We let our whole grain pile fall to the floor. We spill all our wheat into the chaff. Because we were going after the wrong thing, rather than guarding our harvest and the good work we've done up to this point. 

Maybe you're working on a lesson on grace, and you have this great thought. This amazing thought. It's beautiful. The words are all there, and it just strikes your heart at the deepest level.'s not really about grace. It's kind of maybe about grace if you turn it just the right way, if you build up the story just right around it, if you squeeze a square peg into a round hole, if you tell your audience that it's a legitimate commentary because it's a thought you had while thinking about grace...but it's not about grace. It's about something else. 

You can let your whole pile of grain fall to the floor in pursuit of this one thought you can't let go of, this one good thing you don't want to let lie in the chaff pile. You can pick it up hastily and throw it into the good grain. But no matter what you do, if you don't let this one thing lie, you bring chaff into your wheat. Every time. You lose focus. You lose poignancy. You lose perspective. Because you won't let this one thing fall. 

Let it go. Yes, it's good. Yes, it's beautiful. But let it go. You can always come back to the threshing floor and dig around when you've done what you can with the good grain. But if you interrupt yourself now, if you stop yourself now, you're going to spend your whole prep time on your hands and knees, trying to pick wheat out of chaff, knowing you had it. You had it once. And you let it go, chasing one head of grain, one tiny head of grain....

It's one of the hardest things to do, but the most important. Because if you want to talk about grace, talk about grace. If you want to talk about love, talk about love. If you want to talk about mercy, talk about mercy.

If you want to offer your best grain, let the chaff go. 

Friday, June 10, 2016


I like to keep my God knowable, or at least, explainable. In the midst of some of my greatest holy moments, my grief has always been that I feel the limitations of my own words. There's nothing I could say, no words I could use to adequately describe a moment like this one. 

It's like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man, who has no concept of light or darkness, no understanding of color. I couldn't even get past, "Well, at the top, it's red," because he doesn't know what "red" means, and how could I explain something so simple, yet profound? These moments that I share with God, they are seen through the eyes of my own heart. I'd have to give you my heart for them to even begin to make sense and I can't give you my heart. 

I can only share it.

And it is here that I feel the inadequacy of my own words. Or perhaps they are doing precisely what God intended them to do.

God's Word is powerful; we know this much. Through His Word, He created the universe. Out of the emptiness, He formed everything by His very breath. And in one of the greatest moments of history, the very turning point of humanity's story, His Word become flesh and dwelt among us.

My word does not become flesh; my word struggles to grasp what flesh even means.

It struggles to understand the tension between the now and the not yet, between woundedness and healing, between truth and grace, between confidence and insecurity. My word is never perfect; my word is always torn. It does not speak in boundless imagination, but recognizes its own infirmities, its own weaknesses. My word does not create the world; it struggles to make sense of it.

Yet whatever insecurity there is in my word, it comes only from speaking in two tongues at once. My word, though it is not the creative word that speaks the universe into existence, is God's word, for it is the word of my own story, which is also His story. It is a word of love and grace and truth and mercy and redemption and forgiveness and peace. In the very same breath, my word is the word of men, for it is the word of our stories. It is a word of hardship and trial and questions and longings and hopes and dreams and fears. So when you hear the crack in my voice, this is why. This is the tension that my word carries, and my word knows the waters it must tread.

But I think this is how God must have intended it. He couldn't have us all recreating the universe with our words, could He? He couldn't have us all making something out of the formless and void. That's His job. That's His Word. It's not mine.

My word doesn't create universes, but it does create one thing. One very special thing. My word creates sacred space. 

My word creates the space where you and I come together on this holy journey. It creates the space where two broken spirits meet. It creates the space where my story and your story merge onto the freeway of God's story, together, because we both maybe know a little bit about what it's like to live here, about what it's like to be these creatures, these creations, these...human beings. And my word doesn't really do this by creating, but by sharing. 

It's all my word can do.

Which is why I struggle when something incredible happens. I want my God to be knowable, or at least to lend Himself to my words, because I know that I have this amazing responsibility of sharing. Of being able to give whatever little piece of this story that I have to draw us both into the bigger story. To create the sacred space. 

So forgive me if my voice cracks. Forgive me if I don't know all the words. Forgive me if it doesn't make complete sense. I'm trying. I'm trying to do what my meager words can do. I'm trying to do justice to the breath that God has given me. I'm trying...not to make a rainbow but to share a moment. I'm trying to make a sacred space in a place that still so often feels formless and void. 

Because that's all I can do. It's all I was meant to do. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mutually Inclusive

Jesus loves you, and you love Him. And we ought to love one another. 

But what is love?

Somewhere, we've gotten the idea that love is mutually exclusive; that it simply cannot exist with certain other things, or perhaps any other thing. Love cannot exist with anger. I cannot be mad at you and still love you. Love cannot exist with grief. I cannot mourn and also love. Love cannot exist with forgiveness. I can either forgive you or I can love you, but I can't do both. Love cannot exist with sin. You cannot be a sinner and think I'm going to love you. We even have it in our heads that love cannot exist with either grace or mercy. If you require either of these from me, then you must have these gifts first. Then, perhaps, I can love you at another time, but I cannot love you in the midst of grace. 

It's how we end up preaching to people more than being with them. It's how they get the idea that our rules are more important to us than our love. It's how they come to think that even Jesus is only love when everything else is in its place.

It's sad, really. But it's the story we're living. And if we're not the ones doing the broken loving, we're the ones fighting for broken love. We're the ones pretending we don't need all the other stuff - we don't need grace, mercy, forgiveness - if we could just have love. We're the ones pretending that love need not be whole or pure in order to be real love. We're the ones who, in the face of love, spend our time confessing our brokenness, proclaiming all of the reasons that we are unlovely. Because if we can't have love and grace, at least we can make love feel like grace. If we can't have love and mercy, then maybe at least love can be mercy for us. 

And all of a sudden, love is a different kind of gift. It's not love any more. Not really. But it's something nonetheless. It's meaningful in a different way. 

Still we're longing to be loved.

This is what we're doing to others, too. We're making love another thing by declaring it mutually exclusive. I can't love you if you're a sinner, but I can pretend to love you and call it mercy. I can't love you if you and I disagree on some idea or issue somewhere, but I can pretend to love you and call it grace. I can't love you if I'm mad at you because love and anger just can't co-exist. Or how about this - I can't love you if I also hate you. Because clearly, love and hate simply cannot be.

But love is not really this way. Real love isn't, anyway. Real love, the kind of love that God offers us, the kind of love we're longing for, the kind of love we ought to offer each other isn't mutually exclusive. It's mutually inclusive. It embraces literally everything about you and loves you anyway. It engages every fiber of your being and pulsates with love.

Love runs deeper than all of these other things. Love is like the water table of our lives. No matter what's happening on the surface, no matter what the terrain is going through, no matter whether it's hills or valleys or desert or forest or urban jungle, just below the surface of everything runs this steady stream of love. No matter where you are in this world, love runs beneath you. This life-giving, sustaining force runs in streams below all of life as we know it. 

And this means that love is compatible with just about everything. Even sin. Even anger. Even grief. Even grace. Even mercy. Even hate. Yes, love is even capable of dwelling with hate. (We always say this, but we struggle to live it. We always say that we "hate the sin, love the sinner," but we're really no good at it. It's possible, but we're no good at it.) We have to stop pretending that it isn't.

We have to stop pretending that love is a lesser thing. That love takes its cues from something else. No, everything else in the known and unknown universe takes its cues from love. Love is what's most true about anything, for everything that has ever been has come from Love Himself. And therefore, there is a thread of love that runs through everything. A single thread of love that bounds all creation together. 

So love somebody. Love all of them. Embrace everything about them. Stop passing off love as grace or mercy or something less. Love is the greatest thing. It's the truest thing. And it leaves nothing out. mutually inclusive. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


There is, however, yet another hidden danger even in presenting Jesus as something real in a world of smoke and mirrors: we may convince the brokenhearted only to appreciate Him. 

It's a danger for all of us, really. God is so good, so loving, so amazing, so able that it's easy for us to just be so very glad that He is God, specifically that He is our God. It's why you more often hear Christians say, "Thank you, Jesus," than "I love you, Lord."

Which is weird, right? Because God loves us so very very much, and we, uh, appreciate that. There's even an old hymn that declares, Heavenly Father, we appreciate you.

But if we're being honest, I don't want a God that I can only appreciate. I want a God that I can fall in love with.

And that's going to take more than Him just being something real.

It's going to take more than His healing me. It's going to take more than His redeeming me. It's going to take more than His even loving me. 

For me to love God, to really love Him, He's going to have to have a personality all His own. He's going to have to have an essence about Him that isn't related to me in some way. He's going to have to be His own person, His own character in this so-called love story we're writing together. It's precisely this aspect of God that gets lost when we only think of all the things this God can do for us. For me. 

But if we look deeper into His story, if we look beyond ourselves and the places where we interact, we'll discover the very character of God. And we might even fall in love with Him.

For example, I love that Jesus is a guy who knows all the answers, but He still chooses to answer questions with questions. It doesn't matter what anyone asks Him, how difficult the question is, or how important, Jesus turns back with yet another question. Because He could be a know-it-all if He wanted to, but it's not His style. He wants us to engage deeply with the questions ourselves. He wants us engaged with our world, with our thoughts, with our own hearts. I love that about Him, even though I realize, too, how incredibly frustrating it is to be on the receiving end of His questions.

I love that Jesus is so comfortable not only in the company of sinners, but in the homes of them. He never engages in a PR stunt; it's all real. It doesn't bother Him to be in the home of the tax collectors, surrounded by sinners, with a prostitute rubbing her hair all over His feet. Today, we might say that's a bit of debauchery, but we don't see Jesus enjoying it as though it were some personal pleasure for Him; He's simply comfortable there. And that's amazing.

I love that Jesus can speak truth and grace in the same sentence, in the same breath, and never get the two confused. When He says things like "Go and sin no more," it's clear that He recognizes the sin that's been committed (truth) but in the very same breath, He's forgiven it (grace). Not a lot of guys can pull that off. Jesus can.

I love that Jesus is casually unshakable. I bet He's got a great deadpan. A great straight-faced, truth-speaking, hint-of-a-grin style that just erupts into enormous laughter after the joke settles in. But I love that He's not dismissive of people even in embracing this characteristic of Himself.

I love a lot of things about who Jesus is that have nothing at all to do with me, that have nothing to do with my brokenness or my sinfulness or my insecurity or my need. He He's just...Himself. And there's something to love about that.

And I think sometimes, that's what we ought to celebrate more. We spend so much time singing "Jesus loves you," but how much time do we spend telling the seekers, "You're gonna love Him"? How much time do we spend introducing them just to Jesus, just to this guy who has this amazing personality? This guy who could be their friend, who they'd want to be their friend? 

We have to start telling people about the God they can love, at least as much as we tell them about the God who loves them. Because people who love you are a dime a dozen and can change on a whim, but this unchanging God....

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Something Real

Imagine this scene, if you will. You're in the region of Galilee around the turning of time itself. The people are whispering, then talking openly about this prophet, about this strange man who is traveling the region doing the unthinkable - healing the sick and the blind, casting out demons, teaching with authority, and eating with sinners. It's the last of these that is most controversial, it seems. The most unbelievable. 

After awhile, the whispers get to you and you have to go see for yourself. You start sneaking into the back of the crowds, start inching your way closer to the center of the action. There, you discover the Man everyone's talking about, and He's real. He's really real. Excitedly, you scurry out of the crowds and back to your friends and family, who are waiting to hear your report. 

You've got to come see this guy, you tell them, and they're on the edge of their seats.

He loves you so much.


It's not the story of Jesus that we see anywhere in the Scriptures, and yet, it's the story we keep trying to pull off. It's no wonder that people are feeling a little sold short on this Jesus of ours. It's no wonder that He seems to be missing something essential when we talk about Him this way.

I'm not saying that Jesus doesn't love you. He does. He loves you so much. But this is not what drew the crowds. This is not what convinced people to come out and see Him. Go back even to the imaginary story at the beginning of this post - it's not what prompted you to go out and see Him. You didn't hear whispers that Jesus loves you, even though He does; you heard whispers of His power, His authority, His unconventional wisdom, His unconventional life. It's these things that drew you to Him. Only later would you discover, perhaps, that He loves you. 

We use God's love for His people as a selling point, but to be honest, it's not a great one. There are a thousand other people even in most of our communities that we could get to love a person. With the right marketing, with the right outreach, with the right hype, I could fill a room to capacity with people who will say that they love you, or who might even really love you. People who love you, in this world that's just looking for someone to love, are a dime a dozen. You don't get up off the couch to go see another one of them. The truth is that you probably don't even know much of anything about most of the people who say they love you. 

And let's say that your life really hits the rocks. Let's say you're hungry, tired, broken, beat down, crippled, sick, or possessed by something that's bigger and darker than you. It's nice have to people who love you, but nice really isn't enough. Let's say you're faced with your own limitations, your own weakness, your own insecurities, your own mortality. Are you really, at this moment, hoping there's someone out there who loves you?

Of course not. You're hoping there's someone who can heal you. 

That's where Jesus comes in. See, the selling point of Jesus, what we need to be telling people about Him, is not that He loves us, although He does and that's great. What people need to hear about Jesus are the same whispers that traveled through Galilee. There's this guy...

There's this guy who teaches with such authority that you can't help but buy into His message. There's this guy that speaks with such authority that the winds and the waves and the demons obey Him. There's this guy who gives sight to the blind, opens the ears of the deaf, strengthens the limbs of the lame. This this guy who breaks bread with sinners. And He's got a piece in His hands for you. 

There's this guy who surrounds Himself with nobodies and calls them somebodies anyway. There's this guy who dares speak back to the experts, who confounds them with their own questions. There's this guy who hears the crowds calling His name but He still knows yours. There's this guy who hears you calling from the side of the road, and He's calling right back to you. By name. There's this guy....

That's what gets people to Jesus. That's what brings them out of their comfort zones and into the commotion. That's what gets them onto the streets, begging, aching, crying out to God. It's not that He loves them; that's not enough. 

It's that He's real. 

It's that all the whispers they've heard about Him are true. It's that He really is that guy. He really is the One who is casting out demons, curing the sick, healing the lame, and eating with sinners. He really is the One who knows your name, who calls you out as a nobody and makes you somebody. He really is the One who, when your life really hits the rocks, lets you sail again.

He really is the One who can heal you.

That's what people are looking for. That's what people need. Yes, Jesus loves you, but so do a thousand other people who may or may not actually be real. This guy...this guy is the real deal. He's real. He is who He says He is. That's what we need to be telling people. That's where we need to be calling them.

Not into the arms of a loving God, but onto the streets of Galilee. Where they can discover that there's this guy...

Monday, June 6, 2016

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus loves me. This, I know.

It's one of our major selling points as Christians - God loves you. Jesus loves you. If you're one of the millions of people looking for love right now in this world, look no further. Because God is love, and He loves you so, so very much.

The Bible, it's the story of God's love. It's the stories of God's love. It's the proof irrefutable that God loves you, even if you're a sinner. Even if you're a saint. Even if you're a broken-down, worn-out, lying, cheating, adultering, prostituting, failing mess of a man or woman. Even if you're a blind, deaf, lame, mute, crippled, bleeding, disreputable individual. Even if you think you've got it all together. Even if you know you don't. The Bible is God's testimony of His love for you. 

And all that is true. It's true. 

And it's dangerous.

It's dangerous for a lot of reasons. It's dangerous because it tends toward a perversion of worship. If, in this religious ideation we have, God is the one who does all the loving, then isn't it He who worships us? A lot of Christians today think this way. A lot of Christians today think they can do no wrong in God's eyes, that no matter what scheme they come up with or what evil they take part in, God is always going to love them just the same. He's never going to be angry with them. He's never going to be disappointed. He's never going to hold them accountable for anything because they, as the work of His hands, are the object of His worship and not the other way around. They have become God's god. He adores them and sings praise over them.

Because He loves us so.

It's dangerous because it makes God not a formational or foundational presence in our lives, but just another circumstantial one. He's just someone else who loves us. Someone else who can't get enough of the awesome that we are. Our lives are full of people that we keep around for no other reason than that they feed our ego. They love everything we do. They tell us how good, how smart, how beautiful, how capable, how amazing we are. And God becomes to us just another one of these voices. He tells us all these same things about ourselves, but if His primary role in our lives is as just someone else who loves us, His voice is not fundamentally different to our hearts than is Bill's or Susie's voice next door. In fact, we may even reach a point, and fairly quickly, where we don't even need God for this because Bill's and Susie's voices are more real to us than His whisper. I can hear Bill when he says I'm amazing; I can hear Susie praise my awesomeness. To hear God, I have to, you know, pray and stuff. And create space in my life for Him to answer. And figure out if that's His voice I'm hearing or just the wind. ...It's far easier to be loved by Bill and Susie than it is to be loved by God. And if I can get from the world what I can get from God, why do I need God?

There are plenty of people in this world that love me.

It's dangerous because it encourages a shallow relationship with God. If the thing that is most true about God is that He loves you, then really, that's all you ever need to know about Him. You keep coming back to Him with one question, and one question only: Do you love me? If the answer is yes, then God is still God and you are still you and all is right with the world. But in this simple question, Do you love me?, lies the neglect of the bigger question: How much do you love me? The Cross of Jesus loses its power if the question is love or no love, deal or no deal. The Cross becomes a token of affection just the same as a bouquet of flowers, a fast food gift card, a beautiful ring, or the latest gadget. Oh, that's nice. Jesus gave me a Cross. How neat.

Not only does the Cross lose its power, but God loses His face. It used to be that men longed to see the face of God. Abraham longed for it. Moses longed for it. David longed for it. Elijah longed for it. Men ached to see the face of their God, to know the contours of the lines around His eyes, to see the depth of the universe reflected in them. Today, not so much. Today, who cares? The face of God? Nah. We'll settle for the heart of Him. As long as that heart is, you know, totally centered on loving us. That's the single most important thing about God's heart - whether or not, this morning, it loves us. That's all we care about. Do you love me today, God? Okay, great. 

If someone's willing to love us, broken and battered as we are, most of us don't bother to spend much time asking questions. We don't ask whether that person is good for us or bad for us. We don't ask what they contribute to our lives. Their contribution is fairly obvious, isn't it? They love us. For that alone, they are worth keeping around. And if the day comes when we tire of their love or we just don't feel it any more, we cut them loose. We move on. Because we are so love-starved in our world, because our egos are so fragile, we just don't care about much of anything else. We just want to be loved.

And Jesus loves us. This, we know.

But if, for whatever reason, there comes a day that He doesn't, we move on. If today it doesn't feel like He loves me, then today, I have no need of God. I have other people to love me. And if, for whatever reason, those other people stop loving me, I'll come back to God because He has to love me. Or something. And that's all we ever want from Him, isn't it? Just to be loved?